Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Weapon of Choice

You can go with this, or you can go with that: Compos(t)ition Marble is now available for ordering from Pavement Saw! Just click on the link to go get it.

Fascinating SCT lecture by Eric L. Santner yesterday called "Neighbors and Other Creatures." Santner's a professor of German Studies at the University of Chicago and he does inventive and imaginative critical theory with the history of monotheism, Freud and psychoanalysis, Jewish theology, German idealism, Giorgio Agamben, Walter Benjamin, Holderlin-Rilke-Celan, and divers other texts and topics. His lecture focused on the implications of the commandment from Leviticus to "Love thy neighbor" and on how the Other agitates us to the degree we are unable to navigate or integrate our own otherness. I was very interested in his last book, On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life, and I'd like to read his latest, On Creaturely Life: Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald. If people express interest in seeing my lecture notes, I can post 'em.

Beginning to investigate the field (pun intended) of landscape ecology, so that a term like "ecolage" can be a little bit more than a metaphor when I use it. It's really interesting to learn a new technical language, especially one that has rich implications for poetry. I've got a tome by one of the leaders in the field, Richard T. T. Forman, out from the library: Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions. I probably need a more introductory text, but I'm learning a lot notwithstanding. The idea of the land as a mosaic is obviously very suggestive given my project of reconciling pastoral with the modernist practice of collage: Forman's theory derives from the view of landscapes that can be provided from a height, such as from an airplane, which makes it sound very technological and perhaps more about manipulation than deep ecology. But what it actually is is a highly pragmatic ecological approach, one which recognizes the impact humans have on nature and tries to find ways to work with that rather than devoting energy solely to wilderness preservation, say. Much of the first chapter is devoted to explaining the spatial units by which landscape ecologists study the land: there's a wonderful diagram that's reminiscent of the child's game of describing where they live as (for example), "Pleasant Street, Ithaca, New York, the United States, the Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way, the Universe." The three principle spatial units that Forman identifies for studying landscape are called patch, corridor, and matrix. A patch is "a relatively homogeneous nonlinear area that differs from its surroundings"; this could be a meadow, a stand of trees, a wheatfield, or a tract house. A corridor is "a strip of a particular type that differs from the adjacent land on both sides. (Corridors have several important functions, including conduit, barrier, and habitat.)" A matrix is "the background ecosystem or land-use type in a mosaic, characterized by extensive cover, high connectivity, and/or major control over dynamics." This is the hardest one for me to understand but I gather the matrix is what makes a particular landscape seem coherent as a landscape, despite the diversity of its mosaic of patches and corridors. There are a lot of echoes from aesthetic theory here. At one point Forman quotes another ecologist as saying, "Form is the diagram of force," which sounds like a variation on the Shaker expression that Guy Davenport once went to town with. And Forman explicitly compares this model of perception with aesthetic ones: "The patch-corridor-matrix model has analogues in other disciplines. Point, line and plane are fundamental concepts in art [here he cites books by Kandinsky and Klee) and in architecture."

It is tempting to look at Ronald Johnson's writing through this lens, especially given my belief, expressed here, that ARK is a view from above, a mosaic of modernism, Americana, natural phenomena, and Oz. But one has to be a little cautious when thinking analogically—it's a mode that comes very naturally to me, but it can be difficult to maintain an argument with it. Anyway, I'm excited to be coming to grips now with actual ecological theory (many ecocritics seem to have a hazy, transcendentalist grasp of the term ecology) and relieved to discover that it's not so technical I can't grasp it.

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